The rules

Darnton, Tracy. (2020). The rules. London: Stripes. 9781788952149. £7.99

All I can say is Tracy Darnton must be psychic! The rules is a perfect book for the second half of 2020.

Amber Fitzpatrick is a feisty product of the chaotic lifestyle created by her survivalist father, she has lived a life of fear and suspicion, a world away from other young girls in the southwest of the UK. She can break down a rifle, treat a knife wound, and is ready to purify water at a moment’s notice. When her mum dies, Amber is left with her (frankly kooky) scary dad and a dawning realisation that she’s got to make a move.

The father is a creepy mess, a ‘prepper’ who treated his wife as property and his daughter as an unwilling apprentice. His cruelty knows no bounds, meaning Amber has a good reason for running away for the school she has come to think of as ‘home’. But thanks to him, Amber is able to make a stealthy off-grid escape across Britain using her survival skills and courage.

The plot is fast-moving and exciting, helped by Tracy deftly weaving backstory through the action as it unfolds instead of spending distinct chapters explaining Amber’s complicated psychology. She’s got Amber’s sarcastic mistrustful voice right, too — so right that I believe I would know Amber if I passed her in the street. Amber grows in confidence through the story — always the mark of the best in YA — it’s great to see her soften those edges roughed by her overbearing father for many years.

Tracy confidently allows Amber a slip-up or two, which puts in play a few chance encounters as well as a story rich in tension and twists. It would be too easy if she were SAS-ready, she knows a lot more than most, but she was a reluctant prepper after all. Throughout the story Amber recites the Rules that her dad drilled into her. They are her prison and the key to getting out of it. Clever.

‘The rules’ is balanced. Though thrilling, I really liked its humour. Not laugh-out-loud, but there are moments to savour and this adds realness. The fact that Amber is studying ‘unreliable narrators’ in English Lit was quite funny as were the hapless antics of the character and confidante Josh (personal favourite); may we please have a Josh-spin-off? As in her previous novel ‘the truth about lies’ there are several objects important to the plot — bin liners, poo shovels, stuffed penguins, Grab-and-go bag — but I want to award Tracy the 2020 prize for ‘Best Use of a Advent Calendar in YA’.

Tracy’s previous novel ‘The truth about lies’ shares a few elements with her new book. There is a boarding school, an unreliable narrator without parents, nail-biting action, intrigue, self-sufficiency and the great British countryside. ‘The rules’ reminded me of ‘After the fire’ by Will Hill in its creepy restrictions and committed outsiders and if you liked ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth, you’re going to love Tracy’s sassy taking-care-of-business Amber Fitzpatrick.

I hope you liked my little review. I read the paperback version of this brilliant book, and I couldn’t put it down. Lisa 🤓

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